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Monday, February 09, 2009

[mostly] for my mother...

For those who are not familiar with the physical process of voting here in Israel, allow me lend a hand:

Unlike many countries that have mechanical, or even computerized, voting machines, Israel still uses paper ballots and a simple ballot box.  At the end of the elections, the ballots are counted by hand under the supervision of multiple representatives of the interested political parties, and the results are tallied the old fashioned way.

And because this is a country of immigrants where nearly everyone is highly literate... although sadly not in a common language... we have eliminated the need to mark a ballot or write in a name.  All the political parties are represented by one, two or sometimes three letter symbols printed on individual ballots that the parties themselves have chosen and registered with the National election authorities.

These letters often, but not always, spell a word or acronym that is supposed to serve as a positive mnemonic for that particular party.  For instance, the Labor party's symbol is the three letters Aleph- Mem-Taf which spells the Hebrew word Emet (truth), Kadima uses the two letters Chaf-Nun which spells the Hebrew word Ken(yes), and the Alei Yarok (Green Leaf) party uses Kuf-Nun (the first two letters of the word Cannabis) as their symbol.  A few parties with short names, such as Meretz and Shas are able to use their full name as their symbol.

In order to avoid confusion in the voting booth, almost all the parties use an image of their ballot as a prominent part of the advertising campaigns.  The idea being that if someone (like my parents) really wants to make sure they don't vote for the wrong party, they can take the campaign flyer for the correct party into the booth and compare the letter-symbols in the ad with the letter-symbols in the tray.

So far so good?

I haven't stumbled across a comprehensive list of parties and their symbols, but here are a good portion of the major parties/factions contending in tomorrow's election:

New Arab Party- עם
Balad - ד
Green- רק
Green Leaf- קן
Green-Meimad- ה
Hadash- ו (vav)
Ichud Leumi (National Union)- ט
Israel Is Our Home (Yisrael Beiteinu)- ל
Jewish Home- ב
Meretz-  מרצ
Kadima- כן
Likud- מחל
Pensioners (Gil)- זך
Ra'am- ק
Shas - שס
Tzomet- ץ
Yehadut HaTorah (UTJ)- ג

OK, so I hear some of you asking, what about the Arabs... why are they forced to vote using Hebrew letters?  I'm glad you asked, because they aren't.  In Arab communities, all of the ballots use the Arabic equivalent to the Hebrew letters, and in mixed communities (such as Haifa and Yaffo) there are both Hebrew and Arabic ballots in the booth from which the voter can select their preferred party.  Since English and Russian (the next most commonly spoken languages in the country) are not 'official' languages, we have to make due with either Hebrew or Arabic.

There will be almost 10,000 light blue Ballot boxes spread across the country tomorrow, including 194 that are taken to hospitals (so bed-ridden patients can vote) and 56 that will be taken to prisons (yes, you read that correctly). 

Active duty military personnel and border patrol soldiers who will be away from home on election day already cast their ballots yesterday at military bases across the country, as did consular/embassy staff stationed abroad.

Incidentally, with the exception of consular/embassy staff stationed abroad and Israeli citizens stationed on Israeli flagged ships, Israel does not allow absentee ballots.  If you want to participate in the country's elections, you need to be here on Israeli soil.  Personally I like this idea since it means that, with the exception of the few who fly in especially for the elections, all of the people voting will be around to reap the consequences of their decisions.

This will by my parent's first national election as Israeli citizens.  They've already voted in Jerusalem's municipal elections a few months ago, so the process won't be entirely foreign to them.  During the municipal elections my parents went to hear a few speeches, read the basic positions of the major parties/candidates, and then asked me to show them the correct letters for that party/candidate so they could vote.  And yes, I showed them the correct letters (and will do so again this time around)

But still, if you don't read Hebrew, or are not completely comfortable with it, walking into the voting booth can be a little daunting. 

Basically, you stand in line at your designated polling place, walk in and show them your ID card and are given an envelope with your info printed on the outside.  When it is your turn, they direct you to a little cubicle (usually a table with a three sided cardboard screen set up to shield you from prying eyes) and there on the table top is a tray that looks like this:

    [image is (c) Israelity.com] 

Your job is to take one (and onlyone) paper ballot and place it into your envelope.  Then you go back out to the table where they registered you on the way in and you drop your sealed envelope into the pretty blue ballot box. 

That's it. That is your vote.

If only the decision-making was as easy as the physical act of voting. 

Posted by David Bogner on February 9, 2009 | Permalink


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Thanks for the tutorial! I was wondering what to expect tomorrow. I just wish I was more optimistic about the likely outcome of the election.

Posted by: Rachel | Feb 9, 2009 12:36:38 PM

Is your highlighting in bold giving us a hint of who you'd like us to vote for?

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Feb 9, 2009 12:38:50 PM

HMMmmmm....I noticed that too. Some subliminal advertising, maybe?

Posted by: Karl Newman | Feb 9, 2009 2:00:08 PM

what a nice boy, to explain the election process so simply...maybe your mom will forgive you now...

Posted by: Debbie | Feb 9, 2009 2:02:17 PM

I have a feeling I'm walking into a trap and yet here I go anyway.
You bring up the point about Israel's lack of absentee voting from overseas (except in specific situations you highlighted) and gave a quality rational for it's existence. (Granted, the better one is that with absentee balloting what stops millions of diasporan Jews from "making aliyah" while on vacation, just to vote from the states.)
But since your argument was that only those who would be affected should have a vote (understandable) why did you vote in the US elections? Yes, you can argue you're affected by who becomes President of the US, but clearly that's not the standard. I don't have a particular problem choosing one way or the other. . I'm just trying to figure out your position

Posted by: tovitim | Feb 9, 2009 2:09:53 PM

Rachel... Don't thank me... I'm a giver. :-)

Dave (Balashon)... No, it was some formatting left from the various sites from which I cut and pasted the information. I would never vote for a party that teamed up with a bunch of old folks. :-)

Karl Newman... whatcha gonna do big guy, give me a field sobriety test? ;-)

Debbie... not very likely.

tovitim... Here's the simple answer: If the tax law clearly allows me to take an exemption that seems odd or even shady, I'm going to take it until such time as they change the law to tell me I can't. To do otherwise would be foolish. Why should others be able to enjoy a legal/financial benefit that I voluntarily deny myself? By the same token, the US allows me to vote no matter where in the world I am. I mailed in an absentee ballot from my ship when I was in the Navy, and I do so from here as well. It is a cornerstone of American politics that taxation buys you representation no matter how far removed you may be from your government. So long as I am obliged to file a U.S. tax return and pay U.S. taxes, I will continue to vote for the various people who are supposed to represent my interests in government there. Until they change the law, that is.

Posted by: David Bogner | Feb 9, 2009 2:26:58 PM

A word of warning. It is illegal to walk into the polling place displaying party campaign material. If you need it to know who to vote for, either fold it up so it won't be noticable, or put it in your bag or pocket, and then open it out or take it out once you are actually in the booth. It is similarly illegal to enter a polling place wearing a party T-shirt.

Posted by: Imshin | Feb 9, 2009 3:16:36 PM

Call up the IP and tell them to go check your back yard. :)

Posted by: Karl Newman | Feb 9, 2009 3:19:35 PM

Oh and there is usually a poster with a list of the parties and their letters hanging up inside the booth.

Posted by: Imshin | Feb 9, 2009 3:22:02 PM

Ha! You're taxation without representation argument is particularly offensive to me as I am a resident of the.District of Columbia. (I'm kidding about being offended by you. Not being offended by my representation situation in general. It happens to be quite offensive).
I fully understand taking advantage of any voting right, citizenship opportunity (I hold a Canadian passport bc my father was born there), I just found the different principles sort of odd.

Posted by: tovitim | Feb 9, 2009 3:24:59 PM

Imshin ... Thanks. There is a similar U.S. law about politicking within a certain distance to a polling place. I'll make sure to tell my parents to keep the papers I'll give them out of sight until they are in the booth. Oh, and the poster (which, BTW, hasn't been in the booth whenever I've voted) wouldn't help someone who doesn't read Hebrew). :-)

Karl Newman... You haven't seen my yard. Nothing grows there... which is kinda surprising considering the ample supply of fertilizer. :-)

tovitim ... To make it even simpler, if I was allowed to vote in six other countries in which I had even a passing interest, I would. But I respect the right of each country to make its own laws and enforce them. In Israel's case, a country with so many expats living abroad, and so many others who could claim citizenship with the stroke of a pen, could easily have its elections hijacked by people who would not have to personally deal with the consequences of their choices. There is also an ancient precedent at work here. When the Jews were allowed to return from Babylonia, most of them opted to remain in comfortable exile. When these wealthy Babylonian Jews asked Ezra and Nechemia if they could contribute to the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem they were told 'thanks but no thanks. If you want a hand (and a say) in how things are done here you need to be here'. I still think that is the best policy.

Posted by: David Bogner | Feb 9, 2009 3:46:26 PM

What happens if they run out of slips for your candidate?

It defeats the purpose of the cardboard wings if you have to go out and ask for a slip for Candidate X, so does someone check the booths after each voter leaves?

Posted by: Tanya | Feb 9, 2009 6:02:18 PM

Not related, but - this looks like a great recipe for the eggnog-lover:


Posted by: Ben-David | Feb 9, 2009 6:17:06 PM

If they run out of slips you can pick a blank slip (which is also in the box) and write the letter yourself.

Also it's important to note that
1) if you put 2 slips in an envelope your vote will be disqualified
2) usually activists from different parties pass out slips for their party outside the polling place. It's advisable not to take these slips because any misspelling or mismatch between the letter and the name of the party that also appears on the slip will disqualify your vote.

And by the way, does anyone know why the letters for Likud are מחל?

Posted by: anonymous | Feb 9, 2009 8:17:31 PM

Jewish Agency / WZO Shlichim are entitled to vote overseas as well as the Consular Staff - we voted on January 29th and unlike in Israel, we had a blank sheet of paper and a list of the relevant letters and had to write our own ticket (hope they can read my hand-writing).

In 2006 I voted whilst on Miluim in the middle of a rifle range with shots going off all around me - pretty surreal!

Posted by: Neil | Feb 9, 2009 10:33:46 PM

Not to be nitpicky, but the envelope that you are given does NOT have your info on it. All votes are anonymous, although how many people from each area voted for which parties is publicized.

I'm not positive, but I think that מחל stands for "machane leumi."

Posted by: toby | Feb 10, 2009 9:40:39 AM

Where were you in 2006 when I needed you to explain this to me!? ;) It's ok...I've sorted it out for this election and am now aware that ק does not stand for Kadima.


Posted by: Shirat Hasirena | Feb 10, 2009 12:49:00 PM

עלה ירוק - didn't know about <-<-them. Did it really grow on King Solomon's grave?? :-)

Posted by: Rami | Feb 10, 2009 4:51:34 PM

Likud was founded through a merger of two parties: Herut ("Freedom," Menachem Begin's party, the successors of the Irgun and to a certain extent Lechi and the Revisionists as a whole) and the Liberals ("liberal" in the European sense of "free market" or "bourgeouis," the successors of the old General Zionists that some trace back to Herzl and Nordau and that included Chaim Weizmann). The list was called "Gachal," and acronym of "Gush Herut Liberali," the Liberal-Herut Bloc. "Machal" is an acronym for "Mifleget Herut Liberali," which replaces "Bloc" with "Party," indicating that they became one party, not one list.

For some reason, the name of the party stayed "Gachal," though, until they merged with a few other parties and became Likud ("Consolidation"). And the name on the ticket stayed "Machal." Go figure.

Posted by: Nachum | Feb 10, 2009 10:42:10 PM

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